L.A. County reports its 1st West Nile virus death of 2020

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Culex mosquitoes, which most Californians are familiar with, spread West Nile virus. (Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Culex mosquitoes spread West Nile virus. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County recorded its first death of the year caused by the West Nile virus, officials announced Wednesday.

The patient was an elderly resident of the South Los Angeles area and was initially hospitalized before dying from a neuroinvasive disease associated with West Nile virus, the county’s Public Health Department said. In 2019, the county reported 3 deaths from the virus.

“West Nile virus continues to be a serious health threat to residents in Los Angeles County,” county Health Officer Muntu Davis said in a written statement. “We encourage residents to check for items that can hold water and breed mosquitoes, both inside and outside their homes, and to cover, clean or clear out those items.”

Davis also recommended that residents protect themselves from diseases spread by mosquitoes by using EPA-registered mosquito repellent products, particular during peak mosquito season which lasts from June to November.

A total of five cases have been documented in the county so far this year, not including Long Beach and Pasadena since cases identified in those cities are reported by their local health departments. Each year, its estimated that more than 10,000 are infected with the virus countywide, although most people don’t recognize that they have it since their symptoms may be mild.

Virus-infected mosquitoes, dead birds and sentinel chickens have also been identified, officials said.

L.A. County confirmed its first positive test in a mosquito in early June and its first two human cases of the virus later at the end of the month.

Neighboring Orange County announced Monday that a child has been diagnosed with West Nile virus, becoming the county’s first confirmed human case of the mosquito-borne infection this year.

Humans get the virus through the bite of an infected mosquito, although most mosquitoes do not carry the virus.

While most people infected won’t experience any symptoms about 20% will develop a fever and other side effects, such as a headache, body aches, nausea, tiredness and, occasionally, a skin rash. But in some cases, especially in people over 50 and those with chronic medical conditions such as cancer and diabetes, severe infection can occur and affect the brain and spinal cord.

There is no specific treatment for the disease and no vaccine to prevent infection, according to the public health department.

The L.A. County Public Health Department recommends decreasing risk of exposure by doing the following:

  1. Protect yourself: Mosquito repellents can keep mosquitoes from biting you. EPA-registered repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, 2-undecanone, and oil of lemon eucalyptus are the longest lasting and most effective. Consider wearing long-sleeved clothes and pants when outside.
  2. Mosquito proof your home: Make sure that your doors and windows have tight-fitting screens to keep out mosquitoes. Repair or replace screens with tears or holes.
  3. Reduce mosquitos: Mosquitoes lay their eggs on standing water. So check for items that hold water inside and outside your home once a week. Cover water storage containers such as buckets and rain barrels. If no lid, use wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito. Clear standing water in flower pots, saucers, birdbaths and other containers. Clean and maintain swimming pools, spas and drain water from pool covers. Throw away old items in your patio or yard that can hold water.

Call 211 or visit socalmosquito.org to report persistent problems to your mosquito control district. For questions about mosquitoes, call the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District at 562-944-9656.

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